Oliwa is currently a part of the Northern Polish city of Gdansk. It is bordered on the east by the Bay of Gdansk, on the north by the town of Sopot, on the south by the borroughs of Wrzeszcz and Zaspa and on the west by the chain of hills and forest surrounding Gdansk. Except for the 'old city' Oliwa encompasses the borroughs of Polanki, Jelitkowo, Przymorze and Zabianka.

It is not known when Oliwa was established. Archeological excavations suggest that the first settlement in this area was established in early Iron Age. The Cistercian Monks tradition (unconfirmed by other sources) speaks of an early seat of power of the Pomeranian Princes. It is unknown what the original name of the settlement, renamed by the Cistercian Monks to Oliwa, was. Linguists claim that the monks have adapted the old Slavic name of Olawa. Furthermore the linguists claim that the monks could not have come up with the name of Oliwa by themselves because they had nothing to do with the biblical Olive Mound. The proponents of this theory overlook a number of facts however:

  • Why would the monks want to change the old Slavic name?
  • There is no record of the supposed earlier name Olawa
  • Why would the monks have to include the Olive Mound in their regulations to come up with the name Oliwa? Another Cistercian Monks abbey was established around the same time in Spain which was also named Oliva. Especially if we consider that the reference applies more to an olive tree rather than the Olive Mound. (there are many depictions of olive trees in the abbey)

We must consider that the monks were obviously aware of the biblical symbolism of the olive tree. A key to such a use of the name Oliwa could be the following verse:

"sicut oliva virens in domo Dei speravi in misericordia Dei in saeculum sempiternum" (Ps. 52,10)

"like the olive tree that blooms in God's house, I place my trust in divine grace for centuries to come" (this is my slightly loose translation)

There are a number of other biblical quotes which could serve as key to the name Oliwa. In my opinion, contrary to the linguists the name Oliwa can be fully attributed to the monks. The name refers to an olive tree and the abbey 'planted on new ground for God's glory'.

The first mention of Oliwa dates to 1186AD when the Cistercians established a monastery there. The monks received a deed of ownership from the contemporary Pomeranian Prince Sambor I in 1188. The deed encompassed a number of villages, including Oliwa which became a monastic village for long centuries to come. The village's history is directly linked to the development of the monastery. Below you can see a short list of key events during Oliwa's history:

A famous event in the history of Oliwa was the Battle of Oliwa during the Swedish invasions. I will concentrate on the more recent history of the settlement in the remainder of this write-up.

As a result of the 1st Partition of Poland, Oliwa inhabited by about 500 people and counting approximately 70 buildings became part of East Prussia. The Prussians confiscated all of the Cistercian Monks' possessions. The abbey prior received a salary and the monastery received financial reparations. In 1804 Oliwa became an administrative headquarter (solectwo) for the surrounding villages and the administrator (soltys) settled in the Dom Bramny (former abbey gatehouse).

In 1807 the Napoleonic armies took the village over and set up a field hospital in the abbey. Napoleon stayed in one of the local estates. Oliwa became part of the Free City Gdansk or Freie Stadt Danzig until 1813 when the Russians entered Oliwa and once again used the abbey as a field hospital. In 1815 Oliwa and Gdansk became part of the Prussian Kingdom.

A period of relative calm ensues. In 1822 a paved road joining Oliwa and Gdansk is built. In 1831 the monastery is liquidated. The abbey becomes a catholic parish and the former parish church is transferred to the local Evangelical protestant community. The Oliwa parish consisted of a number of small settlements from Sopot to Gdansk including today's burroughs of Wrzeszcz, Zaspa, Nowy Port, Wysoka and Rynarzewo. The Dom Bramny undergoes renovation in 1836 so as to be able to function as a modern administrative center. Gustav Schilling is nominated as the first wojt (administrator of a number of villages) in 1852.

In 1864 the villages of Polanki and Schwabenthal (Dolina Schwabego) become part of Oliwa which now numbers approximately 2000 inhabitants. In 1867 a new wojt is nominated i.e. Herman Tümmler. During his term Oliwa gained a rail connection with Gdansk and Koszalin (1870). In 1873 a local firm Quistrop established a horse drawn tramline. The line met its demise in 1879 because it was not very profitable. In 1874 Oliwa becomes a township and the first community leader is Georg Czachowski. During his term a number of paved roads joining the township with surrounding settlements were built and the number of inhabitants surpassed 4000. Between 1885 and 1907 Oliwa was headed by a number of administrators and slowly expanded in all directions, not in the least due to the continuing efforts in improving the infrastructure. The seaside community of Jelitkowo was incorporated by Oliwa in 1907. Jelitkowo became a center of leisure with bathhouses and a wooden pier. In the same year a gas factory was built. In 1911 Oliwa received running water, although a sewage system was not installed until 1921. By 1910 there were more than 9000 inhabitants.

In 1910 Oliwa celebrated the 250th anniversary of the Oliwa peace treaty. In 1911 a catholic school was established at today's Cistercians' Street. The surrounding forest was enriched by a Hortus Botanicus in 1912. In 1913 another railway line was added joining Oliwa with the Cassubian town of Koscierzyna. After World War I and on the basis of the Treaty of Versailles the Wolne Miasto Gdansk or Freie Stadt Danzig was established on November 15th 1920 under the protectorate of the League of Nations and Poland. The borders of the free city included Oliwa, a part of the parish however was in Poland.

In 1921 Herbert Creutzburg was nominated as the mayor (!) of Oliwa. His term was disastrous. He wanted to open a casino styled on the Sopot casino. (by then Sopot was a renowned seaside spa). He ruined the city funds and the losses amounted to 400.000 guilders. The losses were paid up by the city of Gdansk which sped up the annexation of Oliwa by Gdansk on July 1st 1926. The remainder of the twenties brought a lot of prosperity. A paint factory "Daol" and a chocoloate factory "Anglas" were established. These still exist today, although under different names. The world renowned Dr.Oetker company was also established in Oliwa in the twenties. In 1926 a small ZOO and fur farm were established. The ZOO is today one of the largest in Poland. The most important event of 1926 were however the celebrations of the 750th anniversary of Oliwa

In the thirties the National-Socialist NSDAP was gaining strength in the free city. In 1930 the party numbered 500 in Gdansk. In 1932 when Adolf Hitler made a stopover at the Zaspa airport he was greeted by 10.000 NSDAP members. In 1939 the square in front of the (recently upgraded) Oliwa cathedral was paved with granite slabs and was frequently used as a drill terrain for the Hitlerjugend. On August 23rd 1939 Albert Forster was named head of state and took full control of the free city. A week later World War II started when the German cruiser Schleswig-Holstein attacked a small outpost on the Westerplatte. Polish activists including priests were arrested by the Germans who took over all the important control points and marched into Poland. Freie Stadt Danzig and of course Oliwa together with the Polish voivodship of Pomerania were annexed by the Reich as Reichsgau Danzig-Westpreussen (Reichsprovince of Gdansk and West Prussia).

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